Japan panel recommends eating beached whales

Beached whales should be made available for processing, a report produced by a Fisheries Ministry panel has recommended.

The interim report compiled Monday by the panel, which is headed by Kinki University Professor Seiichiro Ono, suggested that the best way to deal with beached baleen whales is to process them into meat and use the remaining parts as raw material for other products.

Under the current rules, beached whales must be returned to the sea while they are still alive. When they die, their carcasses must be incinerated or buried.

The panel argued that these operations are "too costly and dangerous," citing that the vain attempt to rescue over a dozen sperm whales beached in Oura, Kagoshima Prefecture, in January last year cost 62 million yen. Only one of the 14 beached whales was rescued. At the time, there were strong arguments in favor of processing the dead whales to cover rescue costs.

The report said that if a rescue attempt on beached whales was deemed impossible, they should be put down, which is essential to processing their flesh before the meat perishes.

Profits from selling the carcasses must be used by local governments to cover the cost of dealing with beached whales, according to the panel’s blueprint. DNA samples from beached whales that could not be returned to the sea should be studied and registered to prevent poachers from hunting whales and trying to sell them by disguising them as ones that accidentally came ashore.

The Fisheries Ministry panel will draw up detailed plans within this year to establish a specialist committee that determines whether beached animals can be rescued, as well as a new body to examine whether the meat taken from them is safe for consumption.

The move is certain to draw heavy criticism from anti-whaling countries and organizations, specially because beached whales need to be put down at an early stage to keep their meat edible.

The International Whaling Commission has banned the commercial hunting of baleen whales although Japan continues to hunt them for "scientific research."

In July 2001, the Fisheries Ministry allowed the "utilization" of baleen whales that were accidentally caught in fishing nets, but the commercial use of beached whales was prohibited.

Last year, 273 whales were washed ashore and 41 of them were baleen whales.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun

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